What’s stopping you from traveling more? If your vacation budget is tight, there are ways to save extra cash with simple money-saving habits. Find out how to minimize travel costs and find the best deals for your next vacation. These are top tips to increase your travel fund and finally take those family trips you’ve been dreaming about!
This article published September 12th, 2020 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
How To Save Money for Vacation
For many families, what stops them from taking the family vacation of their dreams is their wallets. They think they can’t afford a summer vacation, so they don’t even plan. But there are many ways to travel on limited funds.
Travel doesn’t have to break the bank and there are ways to save cash up front, without putting the trip on a credit card! This article will share many tips on how to budget and save money for a family vacation.
Why Choose Travel Instead of Stuff?
Research tells us that family vacations have long-lasting impact on your child’s happiness. There isn’t a day that goes by when one of my kids doesn’t bring up something that happened on one of our family trips.
Whether it was a road trip, day trip, across the country or around the world, there are adventures to be discovered with our kids!
I know that seeing my children soaking in new experiences is going to have a greater impact on their lives than any gadget ever will. We will continue to save money for a family vacation, taking them every chance we can get.
Choosing travel instead of buying more stuff is our family’s choice. If you’re trying to save money for a family vacation, set a travel goal and work together as a group to get there! This article will give you lots of ideas on how to save for vacation.
Want to Save Money for a Family Vacation?
Travel brings so much joy, adventure and memories to families. I can safely say that most of our happiest family memories are from our vacations. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment.
So why aren’t you taking a vacation? What is truly stopping you from planning and going on that dream vacation? And if your answer is “money”, here are a few ideas to consider.
Even as a family on a tight budget, we’ve found that there are many ways to make traveling with kids happen. No matter what your funds look like, there’s a getaway that fits within your spending limits.
If you don’t already have excellent money-saving habits, this article will offer you lots of ways to start. Keep reading for the ways you can make those all-important vacations happen with these money saving tips.
Setting a Budget Goal for Vacation
All trips start with a budget. Before you book a vacation package, you’ll want to figure out your approximate travel budget.
- What are your resources?
- What is your spending range?
- How much will the trip cost?
- Is this going to be an affordable vacation or an all-out bucket list splurge trip?
- Will you have enough extra saved for unexpected costs?
If you need to save money for vacation, set up an objective on how much cash you’ll need. With a goal in mind, making cutbacks and budgeting is achievable.
Ideally you want to be able to pay for the entire trip up front, without putting the vacation on a credit card. With a little research and the penny-pinching tips in this article, you’ll be on your way!
Planning Ahead for a Vacation
If your bank account doesn’t currently permit you to travel, saving money is where you’ll start. Planning ahead for travel will give yourself enough time to save.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Saving Money for Vacation
How much will your vacation cost? Whether you’re determining the cost of a Disney trip, airfare to Hawaii or a Caribbean cruise, you’ll need an estimate of all costs. Research the actual travel costs. Include everything in your estimates to know the amount of money you’ll need to spend for the trip.
When is your predicted trip date? If you’re saving for a vacation (this year, next year or farther out), can you feasibly save enough in time?
Once you know how much you might want to spend on the trip, break it down by the number of months until you travel. This will give you an idea how much you’ll need to save each month.
Traveling during peak season? Different destinations have varied pricing, depending upon that location’s “peak travel times”. Holidays, 3-day weekends and summer travel is often more expensive. Be sure to research your travel dates so you have the accurate information for your desired vacation spot.
Should you put your trip on layaway? Some travel agencies offer convenient layaway, including my travel partner Get Away Today. Ask pertinent questions, including upfront costs, date restrictions, fees, and how long you’ll have to pay off the trip.
Cutting Back on Day-to-Day Savings
Changing your daily expenses can be a major factor when saving money for a family vacation. It’s amazing how much “extra money” you’ll find when you really put spotlight focus on where the money goes!
Day-to-day spending can make or break your vacation budget. Each family likely has their own spending habits on where to cut back on daily costs. If you’re trying to save money for a family vacation, cutting back in these ways can actually be a fun (and productive) challenge.
Start by creating a log that shows you where every dollar is spent. I like to do this old school style, in a paper notebook each month. Simply jot down expenses and income in one place. A Google spreadsheet is another easy place to log expenses.
After a month or two, you’ll have a great snapshot of your regular expenditures. From here you can figure out where to start cutting back. True, some expenses will be harder to trim than others. But there are easy ways to save, as you’ll see!
Big Areas to Make Cut Backs in Your Budget
These are some of the bigger ways to save money for vacation. Before you can even get to saving, you’ll want to get ahead of your bills, including debt.
Credit Cards – Do you have credit cards that carry interest? Before you even consider saving for a vacation, start paying those off in full.
Watch your accounts – Check bank accounts and credit card statements at least once a week. When you put those on the back burner, it’s easy to spend more freely. By keeping a constant watch, you’ll see how quickly small purchases add up.
Bill payment – Schedule bills to pay automatically. Paying extra money towards late fees is a major step backwards. Ensure you’re paying bills on time!
Monthly subscriptions – Are you automatically paying monthly for something you’re not really using? Take a peek at your statements to see if you have subscriptions or monthly payments that could be cancelled. Consider cutting out monthly payments like streaming services, pet treats, beauty product subscriptions, etc.
Negotiate Lower Rates for Bills
Companies are often open to negotiations on outstanding bills and monthly payments. It’s acceptable to call large companies and negotiate a lower rate on your monthly accounts. I do this about every 6 months with my auto insurance and cell phone carrier.
You’d be surprised how easily companies will work with you when threatened with switching to a new company! Doing these negotiations can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Here are some tips on how to do this:
- Gather up all your regular bills, including the cable bill and insurance bills like homeowners, auto and life insurance policies.
- Make notes on the interest rates and amounts due for each bill.
- Figure out ahead of time what you’ll be asking for and what you’ll settle for before negotiating.
- Are there features you don’t really use or need? Ask about costs if these are removed from your contract.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for a manager if you can’t work something out with the customer service agent.
- Research if there is a benefit to paying off the account in full each year. We do this with car insurance and it saves several hundred dollars versus making monthly payments.
- If you have a large balance, the credit card company may be able to negotiate a payoff if you’re ready with cash in hand.
Small Ways to Trim Spending
A dollar here and there. It all adds up very quickly. But there are simple ways to cut back, even if you do this only half of the time.
Pay only in cash – If you’re visibly watching the money leave your wallet, you might be less likely to spend than when you swipe the debit or credit card.
Unsubscribe to emails – Turn off email notifications from retail stores that send coupons tempting you to spend.
Look for free entertainment – In what area could you switch out paid entertainment for free? Your kids are likely just as content playing at the park as they are going to the pay-to-play indoor structure.
What Can You Live Without?
I’d rather plan another vacation than have cable television. That’s just me, but traveling is just more fun than watching TV. I make the choice to do without.
What do you have that you could cut back on, freeing up more money for a trip? If you look ahead to your vacation and know exactly what you’re saving for, the sacrifice you make now will go a long way.
Be Partners in Saving Money for a Family Vacation
If you’re counting pennies but your partner is still spending like before, saving money for vacation isn’t going to work well. It’s a good idea to discuss your vacation savings plan together and come up with a strategy that will work for you both.
Share Your Savings Strategy with the Family
Before you start cutting things out completely, it’s very important to have a conversation with your family. Changes that eliminate things from the regular routine can cause children to protest.
It can be very hard to tell the kids NO when it comes to spending money on things they’re used to.
Plan the Vacation Together
Often kids will get upset with adjustments to usual spending habits. When saving for a family vacation, consider planning the trip together with children. This way you can remind them about the impending trip and how you’re using the extra money saved towards the vacation.
When kids balk at budgeting, bring up a certain part of the trip that you know your kids will want to talk about. Soon enough they’re excited about planning for their vacation, feeling more a part of the process. My kids even want to save their own money for vacation!
Things to Live Without When Budgeting for Vacation
These are some simple ways to eliminate excess spending from your budget in order to save more for your next trip!
A Month without Spending – Consider a month of no extra expenses. This is an awesome way to kick-start a vacation savings plan. Yes, it can be tough, but it’s still worth the kick in the pants.
No Extra Expenses – Stop saying yes to frivolous spending. That might mean you warn friends and family not to ask about spending ahead of time. Examples might include skipping a monthly dinner out, pitching in on group gifts, and not spending in school fundraisers.
Stay Out of Stores – Avoid your favorite spending spots. For me, that’s Target! If find that online shopping works better on my budget. I can view my shopping cart total and double think purchases before I make them.
Limit Gift Spending – Opt out of gift exchanges during the holiday season. Cut back on excessive holiday gifts to save money for a family vacation instead.
Buy Only What You Need – Eliminate all non-necessities from your spending. That means not dropping money at the school’s book fair or on toys at your kid’s request when out shopping.
Research suggests that parents should spend less on toys and take more vacations. I’m all for that. My family personally reserves toy purchases only at Christmas.
No Parties – Rather than planning all-out birthday parties for the kids, have a small birthday celebration at home. Save the few hundred dollars you would have spent on the party towards your family vacation instead!
Saving Money at the Grocery Store
Food and grocery shopping can be one of the larger expenses in your daily budget. But you and your family have to eat! These are some of the reasonable ways to save towards your vacation fund.
Make a Grocery List
Create and stick to a shopping list. Avoid dawdling in the aisles and resist putting items into the cart that are not on the list.
Meal planning before you shop can help put a focus on your grocery needs. Plan out all breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for at least one week at a time.
Shop the Sales
Plan meals around the grocery store sales. See what higher ticket items (like meats) are priced to sell that week. Then plan out dishes around that item. Stock up on sale items, as necessary. Stock up on versatile pantry staples like canned beans, tomato sauce, and pasta to save money when they are on sale.
Limit Grocery Trips
Aim to shop no more than once a week or every other week. Daily trips to the grocery often result in extra purchases.
What Can Be Limited or Eliminated?
Grocery items including packaged snack foods and convenience items are pricey. See what you can limit or eliminate from your usual shopping list. Figure out what you can live without to save money.
Beverages like juice, soda, and alcohol can be reserved for special occasions rather than weekly purchases. Skip spendy bottled water and get a refillable bottle to carry with you.
Daily Ways to Save on Food
Make Meals and Snacks at Home
Eliminate or limit take-out, restaurant dining and the fast food drive through from your budget diet. It’s much cheaper to buy groceries and eat at home. Yes, this takes more deliberate planning in the way of meal making, but the savings is significant.
We’ve all heard how much we can save by cutting back on coffee house drinks and making our own at home. But it’s true! If you’re spending $4+ a day on coffee, this could be a huge weekly savings.
Eating lunch out daily is another expense that adds up. Try meal prep and packing your own lunches to save big.
Rethink Spending with Budget-Friendly Swaps
There’s no reason to completely eliminate treats, if it’s a conscious decision. Things like individual cones at the ice cream shop could cost a family of four $20 or more. A gallon of ice cream and a box of ice cream cones from the grocery store costs around $5. Making smart swaps like this can go a long way towards adding to the vacation fund!
Be Deliberate with Leftovers
Are you consistently throwing out wasted food? Try cooking smaller meals that result in fewer leftovers. Or plan the next day’s meal around the previous days leftover food (ie: fried rice with leftover rice and pork).
Don’t Go to Convenience Stores
Avoid shopping at convenience stores, where prices are at a premium. If you need it, go to the grocery store, when the price is usually lower.
Ways to Save Money for a Family Vacation
Switch Brands – Are you okay swapping with cheaper generic options for some daily use items instead of the pricier name brands? Costco’s Kirkland brand is just as good as the name brand products, at significant savings.
Use Energy Off-Peak – Take advantage of your electricity off-peak hours. We save a ton of money on our electric bill by only using our major appliances before 4 pm and after 9 pm. Try using the delayed start setting when running your washing machine and dishwasher. Check with your utility company to find out best off-peak hours.
Save Money at the Salon – Are you on an every-6-weeks rotation at the hair salon and barber shop? Stretch that out to every 8 weeks or longer.
Rather than getting nails and pedicure done at the shop, alternate by doing them yourself at home.
Cut Out the Cable Television – Do you actually watch cable TV or could you cut out some of the channels? Or could you turn off cable completely? We’ve eliminated cable completely and only use a few streaming services to save money.
Use Points to Pay for Trips
I’m not a huge credit card hacker. But I do use several practical tips for earmarking credit card points towards travel.
- Attempting to earn credit card points only makes sense with responsible travel rewards credit card use. Pay off the balance each month and don’t carry interest on the cards.
- Read up on the yearly service fees to maintain certain points credit cards. If you only use the card occasionally, it might not be worth the additional charge. However, if you receive a good amount of points during sign up, the scales may tip in your favor!
- If you have a knack for it, travel points hacking is an excellent way to save money for a family vacation. Take some time to research what will work best for your group and specific travel plans.
Saving Money for Airline Travel
Before you even set foot in the airport, there are ways to save money for vacation with the airline you choose. These are some of the best ways to save money towards purchasing airline tickets.
Airline Charge Card – If you always choose a particular airline to fly, consider opening a travel rewards credit card through that company. You’ll likely receive bonus points for registration that can be used towards flights and travel. I fly Southwest Airlines a lot, so I have their credit card which earns points for travel.
Companion Pass – Airline loyalty can pay off big time, with the potential of earning an airline companion pass. Essentially, after flying a certain number of times with the same airline, you may be able to earn a “companion pass” for a determined amount of time. Then each time you fly, you’ll be able to have someone else fly with you at no charge (outside of taxes/fees).
Airline Rewards Points – Sign up for airline rewards as a way of earning points towards discounted or free travel. The airline will send you occasional email newsletters, often with contests to win points.
Buy Points During Sales – Don’t have enough points for a free flight? If you know you’re going to be traveling and booking flights, consider purchasing airline points when they go on sale. Be sure to check expiration dates on points and use them within the allotted timeframe.
My friend Leslie offers up great advice on how to make the most of a Southwest fare sale.
Two More Travel Credit Card Options
These are two suggestions for credit cards that may be a good fit for your family. As previously noted, if you’re not great with paying off credit cards in full, opening one might be a poor idea. Do your personal research to determine which cards offer you the best incentives.
Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi
If you shop at Costco, their Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi can be an excellent way to save for travel. We use our Visa regularly for groceries, gas and utilities. Each year you’ll receive a large rebate check. This check can be used at Costco, of course. But we prefer to use the electronic transfer feature on the Citi website, which moves the check amount directly to your chosen bank account. My family received over $1000 last year, which we put right back into the bank!
We have the Executive membership, which costs a small amount more yearly, but rewards us back more. On our last family road trip, I plotted out on a map where all the Costco gas stations are on our route. This helped us get gasoline at a great price and continue to earn big points back on our card!
Since we do a lot of Disney travel as a family, I also have a Disney Visa that I use for Disney-related travel expenses. The points value might not be as great as some other credit cards when shopping for non-Disney items, so do your research.
There are additional discounts through the Visa that might be worth it to you, especially at the theme parks. You’ll be able to use these “Disney Dollars” earned towards purchases in the park, on airfare, at ShopDisney and when booking the actual vacation. There’s even a special photo location just for Disney Visa cardholders!
Additional money saving bonus!! – Sign up for a Disney Visa Card and earn a significant new card member bonus after qualifying purchases. You’ll receive a $300 statement credit with the Disney Premier Visa Card or a $150 statement credit with the Disney Visa Card, when a determined amount is spent within the first three months.
Get Paid for Shopping As Usual
There are several easy to use apps that will help you save money that can be used towards travel costs. A simple way to save money for a family vacation is booking all travel online, using these cost-savings apps.
There’s no charges involved and you shop just as you normally would. Simply add the app to your computer or device, which earns cash back when you shop.
Rakuten is one super-simple way to earn extra income without doing anything other than internet shopping!
Rakuten works in several ways. You can go directly to the Rakuten website and click the tabs to shop (including a Travel and Vacation section). But my favorite is to add the Rakuten tracker directly to your computer.
Here’s how it works: You’ll shop online as you normally do. When shopping through a Rakuten partner, a pop-up will alert you to activate the Rakuten link.
It’s as easy as a quick button click. Rakuten tracks the purchase and you’ll earn a percentage back. They’ll even remind you of coupon codes when available.
When you’re ready to cash out your balance, you can receive a “Big Fat Check” in the mail.
Want a bonus? When you sign up for Rakuten through this link, you’ll receive an extra $30 into your account!
Upside is a great way to earn money back on gasoline, grocery and restaurant purchases (even Starbucks!). You’ll pay however you normally do with a credit or debit card. A percentage of cash back is deposited directly to your Upside account.
Here’s how Upside works: Before you start shopping, claim a local offer in the app. There’s even an interactive map to show you where the best gas prices are.
GPS tracks nearby offers so this is an awesome way to continue saving while traveling too! I used the search feature to find out which locations offered the best cash back savings on a recent road trip.
Pay as usual, then check in to log the purchase. A receipt can even be scanned using the app feature. Cash out whenever you want via PayPal, e-gift card or directly into your bank account. There’s no limit to how much you can earn.
Want a bonus? Sign up for Upside app using this link & enter code 7ZSJU6. Earn an extra 15 cents per gallon bonus the first time you make a purchase!
More Ways to Save for a Big Trip
A second job or side hustle isn’t necessary to afford leisure travel. There are other great ways to save and earn extra income towards a family vacation.
For grandparents who want to contribute birthday gifts, request that they send gift cards that can be used during vacation.
Stocking up on gifts cards is an easy way to minimize costs while on a trip. Online sites like Gift Card Mall sell gift cards to various locations, including discount cards for airfare and restaurant dining.
Do you have unused items around that house? Plan a garage sale to offload some of your things, then earmark the money for your big trip.
Open a Vacation Savings Account
After you’ve created your budget and know how much money you’ll be able to save each month, make a separate vacation savings account.
Set up a monthly withdrawal with the bank from your checking account to a designated savings account. This is a hands-off way to automatically save towards travel.